Practice Listening to Understand English
Do you struggle to understand fluent English speakers? Improving your ability to understand spoken English takes practice. As babies we spend about 2 years listening to our native language before speaking it. While we make some sounds and are often able to say about 50 words by the time we are 18-24 months old, those first years are dedicated to the practice of listening.
Unlike a baby, you probably don’t have the opportunity to just sit around and listen to native English speakers all day long while also having your every need met. As an adult, it’s up to you to incorporate listening practice into your study schedule.
to be up to someone: to be the responsibility of someone
Improve Your English with Video Clips
While the focus is on listening, the practice I am going to teach you will help you improve your English in the following ways:
- Increase your understanding of spoken English
- Provide writing practice
- Gain new vocabulary words/expressions
- Provide speaking practice
How to Practice Listening with Video Clips
Improving your listening requires active practice, not passive listening. You must do more than just watch and listen. Let’s look at 4 steps you can use to practice listening (plus 1 bonus step!).
4 Steps to Improve Your English by Listening
Step 1: Listen and write
Get a pencil or pen and a piece of paper. Take your time. I’ll wait for you. I’m not going anywhere…
Okay, are you ready?
Listen to the short clip from Elizabethtown on YouTube, featuring Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom, and write what you hear. Pause and repeat as needed until you feel you have written everything that you can. When you finish, go to the end of this post and compare what you wrote to the transcript. Try not to look at it until after you’ve done your listening practice!
Okay, have you compared what you wrote to the transcript below? Be sure you have an accurate script in front of you for the next part of this practice. Also, guess what? You’ve not only worked on your listening, but you’ve also worked on your writing. Congratulations! You have successfully killed two birds with one stone. What a horrible idiom that is! It means that you have achieved two things at the same time. Thankfully, no birds have been harmed.
Now, let’s move on to vocabulary from the clip.
Step 2: Learn new words and expressions
Be sure you understand what is being said. Here are a few explanations to help you:
- you don’t get it = you don’t understand
- break through barriers = succeed in overcoming obstacles and difficulties
- blame = responsibility for a fault or wrong
- bow = surrender, give in
- waa, waa, waa = crying sound
- fail big = to fail in a big way, to majorly fail
- stick around = to remain in or near a place
- wanna = reduced and blended form or want to
- ‘em = reduced form of them
That should cover the more challenging vocabulary from the clip. If there are more words you don’t understand, just Google “define + the word you don’t understand” to get a definition. Once you are confident you understand the content, you can move on to Step 3.
*Note: Try to recycle any new vocabulary that you want to remember by applying it to your own life. This will help make it more meaningful and memorable. What barriers have you had to break through in life? Is there anything you just don’t get? Use these expressions to create sentences that are relevant to your own life. I hope you’ll stick around for Steps 3 and 4!
Step 3: Read out loud
Now it’s time for some speaking practice. Read the script aloud a few times. There are multiple benefits to reading out loud. A recent study by Noah Forrin and Colin MacLeod shows that reading out loud helps you remember better. Reading aloud makes it easier to remember new vocabulary.
It also helps with muscle memory. Producing different sounds uses different muscles. Reading aloud exercises your English speaking muscles, making speaking easier and better. As babies, we don’t wait until we have mastered our mother tongue to start making sounds and exercising our vocal chords. We start, and we improve through practice.
Practice is needed at all levels to develop to the next level. There is no need to wait for a conversation partner to start exercising your speaking muscles. Don’t wait until you feel more confident. Don’t wait until you can make perfectly grammatical sentences. Do what you did as a baby, mimic others to begin to gain fluency. Start now.
mimic: imitate, copy
Step 4: Shadow
For more speaking practice, play the clip again and try to speak at the same time and in the same way as the actors. Speak along with them. This is known as the shadowing technique. Don’t worry if you are a man speaking the woman’s lines or vice versa. You are using your voice. Stay within your own vocal range, but still apply rises and falls as appropriate.
vice versa: the other way around – in this case, a woman speaking the man’s lines
Shadowing practice helps you develop a natural speed and rhythm.
Pay attention to tone and reductions. Try to match the speakers rising and falling tones to master the rhythm of English.
Ready for more listening practice?
You can find downloadable audio and transcripts for shadowing practice at my Ko-fi shop.
Bonus Step: Explain the scene.
Finally, if you’d like to get more speaking practice, retell what happened in the scene. Talk out loud to exercise your speaking skills. Explain it. If you have someone you can tell it to, great! If not, don’t worry, just imagine you do.
What happened in the scene? Imagine you are telling someone about it. What would you say? Try to do it without looking at the script. Can you describe the characters? The more talking you can do, the better.
Claire: So, you failed.
Drew: No, you don’t get it.
Claire: All right, you really failed. You failed, you failed, you failed. You failed. You failed. You failed, you failed, you failed. You failed! You failed, you failed, you failed. You fai…You think I care about that? I do understand. You’re an artist, man. Your job is to break through barriers, not accept blame and bow and say, “Thank you, I’m a loser, I’ll go away now.” “Oh, Phil’s mean to me waa, waa, waa.” So what?
Drew: I don’t cry.
Claire: You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around, and make ’em wonder why you’re still smiling. That’s true greatness to me.
An Important Note:
Do not worry if you have made mistakes or couldn’t understand what was being said. In fact, if you made mistakes or couldn’t understand some parts, that is great! It means this practice is perfect for you!
If you didn’t make any mistakes, congratulations! This clip is too easy for you! Find a more challenging one and use the steps above to practice. Here are some you might try: Watch YouTube Videos to Hear Natural Spoken English and Video Clips for Fun and Improving English. The only drawback is that I have not written out the transcripts of those videos for you.
drawback: disadvantage, problem
I’m currently creating listening practices with transcripts for you to practice your listening skills and improve your vocabulary and speaking skills. I plan to publish a new audio clip each month on Ko-fi. The first one is about winter vacation plans.
Never stop learning!
- (2018) This time it’s personal: the memory benefit of hearing oneself, Memory, 26:4, 574-579,